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We swallow 2x/minute during the day and 1x/minute at night. Has your dentist educated you on proper swallow? The tongue helps shape your jaws and keep your teeth straight, and now this recently published literature shows how your swallow affects your brain.

A cool paper recently published looked at brain activation during tongue elevation swallowing vs tongue thrust swallowing.

But briefly, a “tongue thrust swallow” is where the tongue pushes against the lower teeth or between the teeth during swallowing. This is an unnatural swallowing pattern and can lead to malocclusions and postural anomalies. Conversely, in the “elevated tongue swallow” pattern the tongue does not thrust between the teeth but touches the “spot” behind the upper central incisors. (There are a number of phases to the swallow not discussed here).

In summary, the study found that “tongue protrusion (on inferior incisors) during swallowing activates a more widely distributed network of both cortical and subcortical areas than tongue elevation (on incisor papilla), suggesting a less economic and a physiologically more complex movement.”

This increased brain activity in tongue thrust swallowing (dysfunctional swallowing) is expected because different muscles (e.g. genioglossus) are overly activated leading to reduced swallow efficiency and postural abnormalities.

So many questions arise: What are the long-term effects from a cortical level on continuous activation of abnormal swallowing? If there are postural ramifications (see previous posts on knee strength and tongue posture), how can this affect things like gait, fascial connections, etc? And what of breathing, can long term abnormal swallowing alter breathing?

Scoppa, F., Saccomanno, S., Bianco, G., & Pirino, A. (2020). Tongue posture, tongue movements, swallowing, and cerebral areas activation: A functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Applied Sciences, 10(17), 6027.